Tucked away at 191 Baystate Road lies an elegant, four-story brownstone, formerly home to a wealthy Boston merchant. Now, however, it is home to 24 female Boston University students who are members of the Harriet E. Richards cooperative house, the first cooperative women’s dormitory in the nation.
Founded in 1928 by Lucy Jenkins, the first Dean of Women at Boston University, the house provides affordable housing for BU women (cis- and transgender) who rely on financial aid to attend the university. Rent is $1,392 per semester—nearly $6,000 less than a basic room and board package through normal housing at BU—and in order to apply, residents must qualify for financial aid. For many residents, living in the house was more of a necessity than a choice—but one they have come to love.
“I moved in here because I really couldn’t afford to live anywhere else on campus. I could’ve taken out a lot of loans, but as it is I’m going to be $100,000 in debt, so another $45,000 would’ve really sunk it,” Said Berit Guthrie, a junior at BU who has lived in the house for two years. “But I stayed because there is a great community here.”
As part of a cooperative, residents work together to clean, do household chores, and prepare house dinners five nights a week. The house also hosts a number of public events per semester, like an open mic night, which the women help to organize and set up.
Not only does shared responsibility help ease the cost of living at the house, it also builds a sense of community between residents, who are often from very diverse backgrounds. “The house is a really great learning experience, because you get [to meet] so many different people with different perspectives,” said junior Ruby Rosenberg. “For example, you can live in the same building as a person of color and you may not know their story or ever get a chance to talk to them. But in this house, it’s very encouraged to talk to everyone, to get to know everyone at least a little bit.”